There is an important conversation being held both on the French Riviera and around the world. The topic: Where are the women? To be more specific, where are the women directors in the Palme d’Or Competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival? There were four females selected last year and yet there is zero today. I recently read a few articles on this issue and many said the same things. Where are the women (in competition)? I couldn’t help but grow more and more frustrated as bloggers/critics were wagging their fingers at the festival director (a man) for the lack of representation. I put my two cents on the blog last week and proposed that these critics might also want to look at who the festival programmers/directors are first. If there were more females helming the top festivals, perhaps we’d see more balanced lineups (read more HERE). But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Currently there are two petitions circling the internet calling attention the male-dominated films in competition.
The first originated from “La Barbe (The Beard)” feminist direct action group about a week ago. The group’s manifesto “Cannes 2012: Un homme est un homme (A Man is a Man is a Man)” is powerful and reiterates the obvious: film continues to be a boy’s club. However, even this call to action still places so much weight on the festival that I don’t think it covers the bigger picture. La Barbe leaders are expected to make an appearance at the festival, so that should be interesting turn of events.
The U.S. version of the petition was eventually created by Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood blog on Indiewire. Titled “Cannes Film Festival: Where are the Women Directors”, the statement similarly asks that the festival leaders of Cannes and beyond “commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films”. So far, the U.S. petition has over 1,800 signatures. It’s not clear what will happen when they reach their goal, but it is clear the voices of the signed are being heard, especially this week.
I thought I was the lone voice of reason, believing that it couldn’t possible be all doom and gloom. I found a sister in solidarity with Columbia University professor and writer Annette Insdorf in a podcast from the Film Society Lincoln Center (“CANNES 2012 DIARY: Where Are the Women?”). In the interview Insdorf made such a refreshing counterpoint to the “blame the festival” argument.
What I learned:
- Everyone keeps looking at Jane Campion in the debate since she’s the only woman to win the Palme d’Or. However no one’s said just how she did it. Insdorf points out that Campion first went to Cannes because her short film was selected for competition. Then she returned with a feature film in competition and won the top prize. It’s about baby steps, folks, regardless of gender. Who knows what lies ahead for the women who are competing this month with short films?
- Insdorf comments that perhaps we need an “enlightened attitude, not a quota system”. This was in response to filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s statement that she “would absolutely hate it if my films got selected because I was a woman. I would only want my film to be selected for the right reasons, not out of charity.” I wholeheartedly agree with these ladies. Any call for forcing festivals to pick 20% women films (or any niche film) to deter sexism (or any other -isms) defeats the purpose of having platforms for artistic excellence. If there aren’t any women films worthy of being in competition based on the festival’s artistic standards, isn’t there a whole rest of the festival lineup to focus our attention on? Insdorf does say that festivals could make more of an effort to go out and solicit selections by women, which is something I hadn’t heard mentioned before.
- In the podcast, Insdorf makes the fantastic remark: “The pendulum swings…” and that perhaps although there were 4 women in competition last year and zero this year, the tides could turn right around next year. Really, who can ever predict which group a festival’s program will favor? Again we have to examine the entire scope of the situation.
- Lastly, the big issue with these petitions is that they completely ignore the female filmmakers who are being highlighted by Cannes this year. Insdorf points out that there are women-directed documentaries (“The Central Park Five” by Ken Burns and daughter Sarah Burns), shorts, special sections (Critic’s Week and Director’s Fortnight both include 4 films by women) and also “films that don’t necessarily fit into competitions.” Say it with me, BIG PICTURE.